Here’s another one from the old mailbag about self-publishing a stage play…
I recently read your article about self-publishing and wanted to reach out and ask. I recently saw that several contests for schools require schools to perform one-act plays (under 30 minutes and some contests state only plays of 10-15 minutes will be accepted) but these plays must have an ISBN number to be considered. Is it worthwhile to self-publish a 10-15 minute play and obtain an ISBN for it so I can market it to schools or what?
Most submission opportunities prefer a script that is NOT published and does not have an ISBN so I’m surprised someone was asking for the opposite. That said, if all you want is the ISBN, you can buy a batch of them directly from the ISBN Agency ISBN.org with less fuss and expense than going through the whole publishing process. It won’t make the play available in bookstores or anything, just let you assign it the number if that’s all you need. Just keep in mind that even traditionally published plays with legacy publishers rarely have an ISBN.
Some of the print on demand publishers will give you an ISBN for free when you publish with them. It’s certainly not a bad thing to have an ISBN, it’s simply the code that lets buyers and bookstores identify your book (or, in this case, play) but it’s not essential and is used more for media other than plays. Most opps usually balk at them simply because they think it means the royalty rate is set (as it would be if a traditional publisher owned the title) but you can clarify when you submit that you retain all licensing rights and can set your own performance royalty rate and that should be fine.
As for whether you should self-publish or not, it’s a big decision so it’s certainly not something you should do for a single opp or posting. But if you think it’s the best thing to do for your career and work overall, a collection of short plays on a similar themes could have good success and self-publishing could increase the chance of schools discovering your work. I have also had good luck with eBook editions of a single short play when it’s got a draw such as a monologue or popular theme.